Alberta is reimposing restrictions on restaurants, gyms and other activities across the province as the number of coronavirus infections spikes and more transmissible and lethal variants spread without restraint.
Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday said the province will return to the first phase of its reopening plan as Alberta forecast 1,000 people with COVID-19 will be in hospital by the end of the month. Restaurants will be closed for indoor dining as of Friday and gyms must stop group activities Wednesday. Retailers and shopping malls must reduce capacity to 15 per cent of fire code, down from 25 per cent.
Alberta’s retreat comes less than a month after Mr. Kenney bowed to pressure from inside his own caucus to loosen the rules. But the variants of concern, which now make up about 43 per cent of Alberta’s 10,809 active cases, are undoing progress to contain infections and threaten to overwhelm the health care system. Alberta projected 2,000 new daily cases of COVID-19 by the end of the month.
“We must defeat these variants,” Mr. Kenney said. “This wave is here.”
Alberta will soon introduce financial support for businesses affected by these restrictions, Mr. Kenney said. The province will also accelerate its vaccination plans. As of Wednesday, anyone over 16 with an underlying condition that puts them at higher risk of a severe outcome due to COVID-19 can book an immunization appointment. Further, people between the ages of 55 and 64 who do not have a chronic condition will be eligible for the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot as of Wednesday.
Alberta has added roughly 1,000 new daily cases every day in April, and those caused by variants of concern hit 676 Tuesday, up from about 100 three weeks ago. Alberta counted 328 people with COVID-19 in hospital and 76 of those are intensive care patients, as of Monday.
Cases are also climbing in neighbouring British Columbia, but that province refrained from introducing new restrictions Tuesday.
B.C. posted another 1,068 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and the province identified more than 200 new cases involving the variants of concern. Health officials blame the rise in cases on social interactions and non-essential travel in defiance of health orders, and expressed alarm at the rising number of younger residents who are now in hospital. Restaurants and bars have been closed for in-dining service since March 30.
Health Minister Adrian Dix urged British Columbians to follow the existing rules while the mass vaccination program continues to roll out.
About 700,000 British Columbians between the ages of 55 and 65 can expect a chance to book a COVID-19 vaccine at their local pharmacy by the end of the week, but only about 200,000 doses of AstraZeneca are expected to be available.
The 300,000 front-line workers who were promised priority access to that stream of vaccine supply in mid-March still have no answers about when they will be back in line as Canadian health officials reconsider the safety of the vaccine for younger populations.
“We do not have enough vaccine to provide it to everybody, but it’s a way of jump-starting that part of the age group,” Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, said Tuesday.
On March 18, the province told more than 300,000 front-line workers – grocery workers, police, firefighters, teachers, postal employees, child-care staff and others – they would be eligible to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“They have gone to work day after day, and they are the true heroes that we want to immunize at this time,” Premier John Horgan said then.
Two weeks later, just as the vaccine clinics for front-line workers were starting to open, the province announced it was pausing the distribution of AstraZeneca because of a reaction among a small number of younger recipients of the vaccine that has led to blood clots.
To avoid wastage, as the province’s supply of the vaccine was set to expire, the province then offered its supplies of AstraZeneca through pharmacies to members of the general public between the ages of 55 and 65.
Dr. Henry told reporters Tuesday she is not ready to restart the priority-worker vaccine program, and she stressed that the pharmacy program based on age could change, once the questions about AstraZeneca are secured. “What we didn’t want to do, was hold up the use of the vaccine while we were waiting, so this is what we’re doing right now.”
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